在good kid, m.A.A.d. city这张专辑中，我们最先听到的是一篇祷文：“主耶稣基督，谢谢您给了我们珍贵的食物，拯救了我们。”喃喃的声音在我们脑中呈现了晚上家庭聚餐的情景。在专辑的封面，一张脏兮兮的拍立得照片为这样的场景增添了视觉上的提示：Kendrick小宝宝正坐在他舅舅的膝盖上荡着双腿。他的前面是一张矮矮的厨房餐桌，上面摆着一瓶40盎司的酒和Kendrick的奶瓶。这张抓拍如同对说唱歌手内心生活简单直接的一瞥。盯着它看太久甚至会感到冒犯。而这样密集的自传体内容正是这张专辑的名片。播放这张专辑，你会感觉你径直走进了Lamar童年的家，在这一个小时中，陪伴着他一起长大。
Lamar给了这张唱片一个副标题：“Kendrick Lamar的微电影”。这样的类比是多么的正确：你可以抓住专辑的大体思路，然后构建出三幕表演的布景。开篇是17岁的Kendrick“with nothing but pussy stuck on my mental（脑子里总是想着找女人无法自拔）”。他开车去见一个叫Sherane的女孩。他的声音在节奏上的疾驰和停顿模仿着他过度焦急中的话语。Lamar在这里探寻着一个年轻人欲望的隐秘：
“It’s deep-rooted, the music of being young and dumb.”
他说道。最开始的一些语音信箱的录音描绘出了专辑的结构，打断了这首歌：Kendrick的母亲在他的电话里唠叨着，请求他回到自己的车上。这些在整张专辑中出现的录音也证明了 good kid, m.A.A.d city也是在表达他家庭的约束力的爱意。在这张专辑的世界里，家庭和信仰已经不是抽象的概念了：他们是将Lamar从将要吞噬他的帮派暴力的深渊中拉回的缆索。
所有这些沉甸甸的素材可能让good kid, m.A.A.d city 听上去有一些拖沓。但是这张专辑的奇迹就在于他把直白的说唱的令人兴奋之处——耀眼的词作天赋，顺滑得可以引用的文字，摧枯拉朽的伴奏，主要客串歌手的出现——都直接整合到了它的叙事结构中。例如，当“Backseat Freestyle”上周漏出时，它非典型特征的题材让很多乐迷吃惊：
“All my life I want money and power/ Respect my mind or die from lead shower”
但是在专辑中，它标志着在叙事结构中的一个时刻：一个朋友播放的一盘伴奏CD让年轻的Kendrick第一次开始说唱。在这样的框架中，他“Damn, I got bitches”（我他妈的有不少妞）的吟唱就不是大男子主义者的浮夸了，而是一个小人物第一次拿着麦克风吹牛。在Hit-Boy疯狂的伴奏上，Kendrick用了三种不同的声音说唱（以双倍甚至三倍的速度）。这同时也是一首不可阻挡的电台主打歌。
Lamar在康普顿长大，西岸帮匪说唱的幽灵一直在专辑中萦绕不去，也给Kendrick和他家乡的关系投上了阴影。当”The Art of Peer Pressure”把Kendrick 和他的朋友带回了Rosecrans大道，音乐也降速，变成了令人感到威胁临近的G-Funk形态，同时作为对这片神圣土地的致敬。一首“m.A.A.d city”暗示了真实暴力爆发的时刻，也让人想起了Ice Cube的歌曲“Bird in the Hand” ：
“Fresh of out school, ’cause I was a high-school grad…”
这里，Kendrick 的声音像一个被吓坏的孩子：”I made a promise to see you bleeding,” （我发誓让你血流成河）他说道，他的嗓音升调，变成了恳求，近乎歇斯底里的哭诉。而作为回应，Compton‘s Most Wanted组合的说唱歌手MC Eiht睨视着：“Wake yo’ punk ass up,” （清醒一点），他的声音就像是Darth Vader的变种。
Dre 是此专辑最显眼的资助者，同时也是最令人失望的。近几个月，Dre让Kendrick 的出道带来的新鲜氧气充入到了他的环境里。他走出了如气闸房一样密不透风的企业内部和Kendrick 站上了杂志封面。但是他在Lamar的故事中显得没有贡献，还帮了倒忙。这张专辑能完美无缺的把得意洋洋的Drake和一个很容易辨识的Janet Jackson取样（在”Poetic Justice”中）融合到了叙事的构造中。而在结尾的一首”Compton”中，Dre唯一的登场让人感觉到他是一个尴尬的局外人。
在”Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”中，Kendrick 以一个外围角色的身份呈递了一段词。这是专辑中同情心最耀眼的表露。”Compton”是一场胜利后的狂欢或是加冕典礼。然而令人惊叹的长12分钟的”Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”之后，”Compton”无可避免的有一点虎头蛇尾。一个艺术家故事的旅途总是比目的地更有趣，不过听着Dre 和Lamar在Just Blaze 尖厉的交响-灵魂乐结合的伴奏上展示着技术，有一种不衔接的感觉。Dre的音乐构成了一部分Kendrick成长所在的风景，他实际的表现却给人以《楚门的世界》的感受。但事实上一首歌”Real”的结尾就标志着good kid, m.A.A.d. city 真正的结束。这首歌代表专辑中故事的飞驰迎来了精神胜利。最后他获取的是“none of that shit”（什么也没有）——不管是钱，权力，尊重，还是对邻里的爱——“make me real,”（却让我变的更“real”）。Lamar拥抱这样的结局，就像他的父母最终道出了这张专辑的主题：
“Any nigga can kill a man,”（每个人都能杀人），他的爸爸谴责道，“That don’t make you a real nigga. Real is responsibility. Real is taking care of your motherfucking family.”（但是杀人不会让你成为一个“real”的人。“Real”关乎责任；“Real”关乎你是否能他妈照顾你的家庭。）
“If I don’t hear from you by tomorrow, I hope you come back and learn from your mistakes. Come back a man… Tell your story to these black and brown kids in Compton… When you do make it, give back with your words of encouragement. And that’s the best way to give back to your city. And I love you, Kendrick.”
The first sound we hear on good kid, m.A.A.d. city is a prayer: "Thank you, Lord Jesus, for saving us with your precious blood," voices murmur, evoking a family dinner gathering. The album's cover art, a grubby Polaroid, provides a visual prompt for the scene: Baby Kendrick dangles off an uncle's knee in front of a squat kitchen table displaying a 40-ounce and Lamar's baby bottle. The snapshot is such an unvarnished peek into the rapper's inner life that staring at it for too long feels almost invasive. This autobiographical intensity is the album's calling card. Listening to it feels like walking directly into Lamar's childhood home and, for the next hour, growing up alongside him.
Lamar has subtitled the record "A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar", and the comparison rings true: You could take the album's outline and build a set for a three-act play. It opens on a 17-year-old Kendrick "with nothing but pussy stuck on my mental," driving his mother's van to see a girl named Sherane. As his voice darts and halts in a rhythm that mimics his over-eager commute, Lamar explores the furtiveness of young lust: "It's deep-rooted, the music of being young and dumb," he raps. The song is interrupted by the first of several voice mail recordings that delineate the album's structure: Kendrick's mother, rambling into his phone and pleading for him to return her car. These voicemails appear through the record, reinforcing that good kid, m.A.A.d city is partly a love letter to the grounding power of family. In this album's world, family and faith are not abstract concepts: They are the fraying tethers holding Lamar back from the chasm of gang violence that threatens to consume him.
All this weighty material might make good kid, m.A.A.d city sound like a bit of a drag. But the miracle of this album is how it ties straightforward rap thrills-- dazzling lyrical virtuosity, slick quotables, pulverizing beats, star turns from guest rappers-- directly to its narrative. For example, when "Backseat Freestyle" leaked last week, its uncharacteristic subject matter ("All my life I want money and power/ Respect my mind or die from lead shower") took some fans by surprise. But on the album, it marks the moment in the narrative when young Kendrick's character first begins rapping, egged on by a friend who plugs in a beat CD. Framed this way, his "damn, I got bitches" chant gets turned inside out: This isn't an alpha male's boast. It's a pipsqueak's first pass at a chest-puff. It's also a monster of a radio-ready single, with Kendrick rapping in three voices (in double- and triple-time, no less) over an insane Hit-Boy beat.
Lamar grew up in Compton, and ghosts of West Coast gangsta-rap haunt this album's edges, casting shadows on Kendrick's complicated relationship with his hometown. When "The Art of Peer Pressure" brings Kendrick and his friends to Rosecrans Ave., the music downshifts into menacing G-funk mode as a salute to hallowed ground. Ice Cube’s “Bird in the Hand” is invoked to set up “m.A.A.d city” (“Fresh of out school, 'cause I was a high-school grad..."), which appropriately marks the moment when real violence erupts. Here, Kendrick sounds like a terrified kid: "I made a promise to see you bleeding," he raps, his voice pitched at a pleading, near-hysterical sob. In response, the voice of Compton's Most Wanted rapper MC Eiht leers, "Wake yo' punk ass up," like a father figure of the Darth Vader variety.
Which brings us to the album's most visible benefactor and most unsettled presence: Dr. Dre. In recent months, Dre has availed himself of the fresh-career oxygen Kendrick's rise has pumped into his atmosphere, lumbering out of his corporate airlock to stand with Lamar on magazine covers. But the role he plays in Lamar's story feels muddled and unresolved. On an album that manages to seamlessly work a smirking Drake and a highly recognizable Janet Jackson sample ("Poetic Justice") into the fabric of a larger narrative, it is only Dre's appearance, on the final track "Compton", that feels like an uneasy outlier.
"Compton" is the victory lap, the coronation. Coming after the stunning 12-minute denouement "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst", in which Lamar delivers a verse from a peripheral character that is the album's most dazzling stroke of empathy, it can't help but be a small deflation. The moment of arrival in any artist's story is always less interesting than their journey, and there's a disconnect in hearing Lamar and Dre stunt over Just Blaze's blaring orchestral-soul beat. Dre's music is part of the landscape that Kendrick grew up in but his actual appearance has a certain Truman Show feel to it.
But the true ending of good kid, m.A.A.d. city takes place at the end of the previous song, "Real", which represents the spiritual victory that the album's story has thrashed its way towards. Finally grasping that "none of that shit"-- money, power, respect, loving your block-- "make me real," Lamar embraces what does, as his parents put the album's central concerns to bed: "Any nigga can kill a man," his father admonishes. "That don't make you a real nigga. Real is responsibility. Real is taking care of your motherfucking family." And his mother: "If I don't hear from you by tomorrow, I hope you come back and learn from your mistakes. Come back a man... Tell your story to these black and brown kids in Compton... When you do make it, give back with your words of encouragement. And that's the best way to give back to your city. And I love you, Kendrick."